Monday, February 28, 2011

PPP Poll: Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker Couldn't Win Election Today

Gov. Scott Walker has seen his popularity take a big hit in Wisconsin as he continues his fight to take away workers rights. His views are so extreme that we're even beginning to see some of the Republicans in the state Senate begin to wobble in their support of his union busting legislation. Walker likes to dismiss the hundreds of thousands of people who have been protesting outside the state Capitol in Wisconsin by claiming they're all from out of state. While anyone who has actually followed the debate realizes these claims are false, a new poll released by PPP confirms that Walker has become unpopular in his state and couldn't win re-election if voters went to the polls today.

When polling a rematch between Walker and the Democratic candidate he defeated in the last election, Democrat Tom Barrett emerged victorious over Scott Walker by a a 52-45 margin. There is also a fair amount of evidence that this swing in voting is directly related to his union busting agenda. In November, voters living in union households supported Barrett by a 14 point margin. That's a big margin, but still shows how a sizable number of Union households originally supported the governor. After Walker has tried to take their rights away, however, people living in union households would now vote for Barrett by a 31 point margin.

Walker's unpopularity isn't just among union households either. As Tom Jensen from PPP points out, the polling also suggests that he's actually losing support among a large number of Republicans as well.
It's actually Republicans, more so than Democrats or independents, whose shifting away from Walker would allow Barrett to win a rematch if there was one today. Only 3% of the Republicans we surveyed said they voted for Barrett last fall but now 10% say they would if they could do it over again. That's an instance of Republican union voters who might have voted for the GOP based on social issues or something else last fall trending back toward Democrats because they're putting pocketbook concerns back at the forefront and see their party as at odds with them on those because of what's happened in the last month.
What's also very noteworthy is that throughout the 2010 campaign we frequently heard about how Democrats simply weren't as motivated to get out to the polls as Republicans. Walker's attack on workers rights, however, has reinvigorated the labor community. Not only have there been literally hundreds of thousands of people who have made their way to the Wisconsin Capitol over the last couple of weeks, but there have been solidarity rallies all across the country. These crowds are "fired up and ready to go" and that has the potential to re-energize the Democrats as we move forward.

What this all means is that Scott Walker has not only caused his popularity to plumet, but could have also made life more difficult for his fellow Republicans.

Democrats Got Some Victories In Virginia Budget Debate

Anybody who has been following the debate around the federal budget knows that it’s going to be a tough partisan battle. The GOP is proposing so many drastic cuts that Capitol Hill is actually abuzz about a potential government shutdown. While we have some uncertainty about the fate of the federal budget, a compromise budget was passed unanimously by both chambers of the General Assembly yesterday down in Richmond.

Based upon what I’ve heard from staffers and a few members of the General Assembly, the Democrats fought extremely hard during negotiations to prevent some of the drastic cuts that McDonnell and the Republicans were proposing. Budget conferees, for instance, were able to restore $75.6 million to Virginia’s public schools division that the House GOP had wanted to cut. They also got $16.3 million over the biennium above the introduced budget for higher education. Restoring these funds to our education system will go a long ways in helping to provide students with the skills they need to enter the 21st Century job market.

Members of the Senate appear to understand the importance of providing students with access to a high quality education and that is why they fought so hard to restore the funding to education. That is why Senator Mary Margaret Whipple pointed out that “this budget compromise is more than just a victory for Senate Democrats; it’s a victory for the children of the Commonwealth.” She went on to say that “the state cut nearly a billion dollars in aid to public schools over the last several years. Although the impact of those cuts will continue to be felt for some time, this budget is a step in the right direction.”

There were also some key victories regarding the budget for health and human services. The Republicans in the House of Delegates had wanted to cut $37.7 from the budget, but the Democratic budget conferees were actually able to end up adding $66.8 million or Medicaid provider restorations and $30 million to the Behavioral Health and Developmental Services Trust Fund. After the budget passed, members of the Senate made it clear that these efforts were made because during these tough economic times it is especially important for somebody to stand up for the most vulnerable citizens.

“The Senate’s position on HHR was very clear. It is our firm belief that we must be advocates for Virginia’s most vulnerable citizens: children, frail elderly and the disabled,” Senator Edd Houck said. “We also saw this as an opportunity to support Virginia’s small businesses which are largely represented by health care providers. So yes, it is Medicaid restoration, but it’s a restoration of health care jobs.”

What this means is that while there are some things about the budget I don’t like, the Democrats in the General Assembly were able to get some victories that will truly benefit the general public. As we move forward, one can only hope that Democrats on the national level are also able to prevent some of the drastic cuts that the GOP proposed.

McDonnell's Lack of Leadership Means He Isn't Really "Bob for Jobs"

Throughout the 2009 gubernatorial campaign, Bob McDonnell claimed he would spur job creation if elected governor. The message was such a critical element of his campaign that he even put out road signs displaying the slogan “Bob for Jobs.” A year into his administration, however, it appears as though he hasn’t really held true to his slogan because a report on Regional and State Unemployment came out last week and showed that Virginia’s average unemployment actually grew last year.

Despite the increased unemployment rate, McDonnell is still making media tours trying to tout how his policies are terrific and is even trying to put his name out there as a potential VP candidate. Heck, he’s so consumed with speaking about his conservative politics despite their negative influence that he decided to lend some support to Gov. Scott Walker’s effort to take away workers’ rights in Wisconsin. Despite what the McDonnell administration might think, Virginians don’t need a governor focusing on a media tour. We need a governor who will actually help create policy that promotes job creation. That is why Brian Moran called upon McDonnell to actually show some sort of leadership on the issue.
“These numbers demonstrate that despite the press releases, the Governor and his team did not even create enough jobs to keep pace with population growth, much less to put a meaningful number of people who lost their jobs in the recession back to work.

“After more than a year in office and in the midst of a nationwide economic recovery, it’s time for Governor McDonnell to account for his administration’s efforts on job creation, including the millions of dollars in taxpayer money they’ve spent in the name of accelerating our economy. Virginia families don’t need press releases, they need real, tangible progress and proof that Bob McDonnell has a comprehensive, long-term plan to grow our economy.”
We are still recovering from the toughest economic times since the great depression, so most people can understand that we’re still not to pre-recession levels. During the gubernatorial campaign, however, Bob McDonnell lead voters to believe that he could bring the Commonwealth back to full strength extremely quickly. It’s therefore worth noting that the nonpartisan Commonwealth Institute for Fiscal Analysis reported Virginia needs to add 263,000 jobs in order to return to pre-recession employment levels. If that’s going to happen by 2012, there needs to be 24,906 new jobs every month. Jobs weren’t even being created at a quarter of that rate when the report was released last month.

When you combine the poor statistics of the McDonnell administration with the fact that Bob McDonnell has been actively supporting efforts to take rights away from workers, you have to wonder if Bob really is for jobs.

Saturday, February 26, 2011

GOP Tactics Are Causing Uncertainty for Crucial Programs

Imagine you’re looking to invest in a certain field and you have two options. You can go with company A, which can do some long term planning because it has a relatively steady stream of investment and isn’t always worried about where its next source of revenue will be coming from. Or you can go with company B, which can’t do much planning because it doesn’t know how much longer its funding is going to stay at the current levels (or, for that matter, if there will even be funding in a few weeks). The smart investor would probably put his/her money into company A. Based upon the way the GOP has been proposing such extreme cuts without considering their consequences, however, it looks like they want you to invest your tax dollars in company B.

I say this because the reason the government has been operating on a continuing resolution instead of an actual budget for FY 2011 is because the two sides weren’t able to agree on an actual budget. Come March 4, the government might not even have a continuing resolution to operate with. In other words, the worst possible outcome of investing in company B will have come true – its uncertain funding ran out and the company therefore had to shutdown.

Now the American taxpayers have reason to be worried because the House Republicans have put forward a resolution that would make drastic cuts to crucial programs just so they can keep giving tax breaks to the extremely wealthy and repeal health care reforms that would help the working class. We’re already beginning to see the consequences of the GOP’s unwillingness to back down from these proposals as they are now suggesting a two week spending resolution to keep the government in business. While this extension would prevent the American people from getting completely screwed over for investing their tax dollars in company b, it still leaves a lot of uncertainty in future funding levels.

The uncertainty of short term funding plans has already repeatedly been explained to the Republicans. During a hearing that I attended last week, for instance, both the Secretary of the Air Force and the Air Force Chief of Staff informed members of the Armed Services Committee that operating under a continuing resolution has hampered their long term planning efforts and, to some degree, our troop readiness. Fortunately, the Democratic leadership realizes this is unacceptable and is trying to work with the GOP to create a long term continuing resolution and agree on an FY 2012 budget. Rep. Steny Hoyer, the Democratic Whip in the House of Representatives, released the following statement about how we need to move forward on the budget.
“While Republicans have now proposed a two week extension to keep the government open, we must stay focused on reaching a compromise to fund the government for the remainder of the fiscal year. Republicans must abandon the extreme and arbitrary cuts they called for in their spending bill that passed the House last week, and move closer to Democrats’ position of cutting spending in a smart, targeted way. I have talked to members of the Republican leadership, and I am hopeful we can resolve our differences on a long-term measure quickly so that we are not forced to continue funding the government in disruptive two-week increments that undermine efficiency. We need to seriously discuss how we can cut spending and invest in our nation’s future, and ensure that we continue the services which are essential to the American people and our economy. If we are going to get a handle on our nation’s deficit, we cannot continue to focus on a small portion of the budget. I hope Republicans will work with us to responsibly reduce the deficit and invest in the future of our economy.”
I’m glad to see Rep. Hoyer displaying some optimism about being able to come up with a compromise, but I’m still not too confident in the GOP’s wiliness to negotiate. As I pointed out yesterday, after all, they’re even proposing huge cuts in the two week continuing resolution they proposed just to keep the government running while Congress trying to work something out. Unfortunately, that means it looks like the GOP is going to continue forcing the American taxpayers to fund programs operating like company B.

Friday, February 25, 2011

Sen. Whipple's Retirement Announcement Represents Opportunity for Progressive Leadership

There has been a lot of talk behind the scenes lately about whether or not Sen. Mary Margaret Whipple would run for reelection this year. Since candidates for to replace her in the Senate would need to begin fundraising and building up a campaign structure as soon as possible and the General Assembly session is drawing to a close, Whipple has announced that she won’t be running for another term.
“This has been a year of milestones: last spring I had my 70th birthday; in the summer my husband Tom and I celebrated our 50th wedding anniversary; and this year marks my 35th year of public service, from the time I was appointed to the Arlington School Board in 1976. Today I’m adding another milestone: I’m announcing today that I will not run for re-election to the Senate this November.”

“I came to this decision after a great deal of thoughtful consideration. I won’t pretend that it is an easy one, but I am confident that it is the right one though, of course, the hardest part will be leaving such dear friends.”
Sen. Whipple was first elected to the state Senate in 1995 and has a fairly progressive record. Some of the issues she’s known for are patroning the Virginia Nontidal Wetlands Protection Action, establishing the Natural Resources Commitment Fund, and advocating for housing, transportation and health care issues. In a speech on the floor of the Senate, however, she reminded her colleagues that there is still a lot of work to do.
““I leave you with unfinished work and many challenges. Pay attention to resource depletion and all its implications; continue to provide educational opportunity and access for the children of Virginia; care for the least among us, as I know you will.”
Senator Whipple represented an extremely Democratic district where she consistently received at least 70% of the vote. The Republicans couldn’t even recruit a candidate to run against her in 2007. As a result, this could be an opportunity for Democrats to have a strong progressive run for her seat in order to help balance out some of the extremely right wing voices that the GOP sends to Richmond. Since Whipple served as the chair of the Democratic Caucus, it also presents an opportunity for a strong progressive to move up in the party leadership. In other words, this really presents an opportunity for the party leadership to reach out to grassroots activists who have been calling for Virginia’s Democratic Party to take a more aggressive stance in support of progressive issues.

GOP Playing Games Even With Short-Term Government Funding Proposals

Several Congressional staffers have told me recently that they aren’t very optimistic about the chances of the continuing resolution by the March 4th deadline. It’s important to note, however, that almost all of them realize that a government shutdown isn’t going to be politically popular. While everyone is talking about the political ramifications of a government shutdown and trying to figure out which party would receive more of the blame, almost everyone agrees that the shutdown would be bad for the American people. That is why there has been a lot of discussion about the possibility of passing a short term funding solution that would keep the government running for a few weeks while Congress continues debate on the continuing resolution.

Since the whole idea behind passing a short term compromise would simply be to give Congress a little more time to debate, common sense suggests that funding would be kept at the current levels. That isn’t the case with the proposal put forward by the House Republicans. In a conference call today, GOP leaders said they will be releasing a funding plan that would have $4 billion in cuts in a plan that would only keep the government running through March 18. This proposal shouldn’t be too surprising, however, because the GOP has shown it’s not interested in real negotiations and simply wants to blame the Democrats for all of our country’s problems. A prime example of this is how Speaker Boehner has been actively trying to claim “Senate Democratic leaders are insisting on a status quo that has left us with a mountain of debt and a stalled economy with unemployment near 10 percent.”

When he was asked about the GOP’s claims that the Democrats are just spending uncontrollably, Jason Furman (the deputy director of Obama’s National Economic Council) told a group of us gathered at NDN to “look at our budget.” He continued by pointing out that Obama’s proposed budget “takes spending to the lowest overall level as part of the economy since the Eisenhower administration.” Furthermore, the president’s budget reduces the deficit by $1 trillion over the next decade. All of the savings from cuts in the GOP continuing resolution, on the other hand, go towards covering the cost of tax cuts for the extremely wealthy and repealing health care reform.

What this all means is that the Republicans are trying to play political games with the budget. Instead of actually putting together a budget that reflects the priorities of the American people, they’ve proposed one that will rally their tea party base and the large corporations that fund their campaigns. They’re even doing this in the short-term spending resolution that is supposed to simply give more time for a good faith debate surrounding the continuing resolution to take place. If the Republicans don’t stop using these tactics, then a government shutdown is likely and the GOP will be to blame.

Video: DC Rally Showing Solidarity With Wisconsin Workers

This is video I shot during a rally held just blocks away from the US Capitol on Wednesday. It shows some of the chanting and we hear from a student from Wisconsin, a nurse, and Rep. Donna Edwards.

Thursday, February 24, 2011

Connolly Says House GOP Turned Its Back On Veterans

It seems like almost every time you turn around nowadays you find yet another other reason the GOP budget that passed Saturday morning is absolutely horrible. While the Republicans want to talk about anything but the true ramifications of their budget proposal, Democrats refuse to sit idly by and watch vital programs be unnecessarily cut. Rep. Gerry Connolly, for instance, spoke out yesterday about how the GOP’s continuing resolution terminates a program that helps homeless veterans.

While I don’t agree with why we went into Iraq and believe there have been some miscues in our strategy in Afghanistan, I have always had a tremendous amount of respect for the men and women who have put their life on the line to defend our country. As Gerry pointed out, that is why the elimination of a $75 million program that offers housing vouchers to homeless veterans in the U.S. “is one of the most egregious examples of an array of unconscionable proposals” put forward in the GOP’s continuing resolution. With all their talk about wanting to support our troops, this move suggests “the House GOP leadership has turned their backs on brave men and women” when they need our help the most.

To get an idea of the situation at hand, at least 75,000 veterans were homeless in January of 2009 and 136,334 veterans have spent the night in an emergency shelter or transitional housing. What makes these numbers even more disturbing is that these numbers have been increasing in recent years. That is why it’s so important to have a program like the one the GOP wants eliminated. Through a coordinated effort between the Veterans Affairs Department and the Department of Housing & Urban Development, the government was able to provide resources that would help stabilize the lives of thousands of veterans.

It’s also worth noting that the Democrats aren’t just rallying behind battling veteran homelessness in order to win political points, but have actually been addressing this issue for quite some time now. President Obama, for instance, wants to reach the goal of ending homelessness among veterans in five years and has put the Department of Veterans Affairs in charge of the efforts. Part of those efforts was this program (HUD/VA Supportive Housing) and it had offered housing vouchers for more than 10,000 veterans across the nation in the past year and another 20,000 since 2008. HUD Secretary Shaun Donovan indicated to Congress last year that a total of at least 60,000 vouchers would be required to respond to the urgent need.

While I understand that we are in tough economic times, this is just not the program that should be cut in order to make sure that the extremely wealthy can keep their Bush era tax cuts. Gerry Connolly gets how the GOP priorities have allowed the budget process to become “thoughtless and insensitive.”
“The fact that this absolutely critical program was placed on a list of expenditures to be terminated in the Republican budget is indicative of how thoughtless and insensitive the process became after the most conservative members of the Republican caucus demanded further cuts in a budget that would already have caused tremendous harm and dislocation throughout the country.

“As long as there are veterans sleeping in shelters, cars, under bridges and on the streets, we have an obligation to continue this voucher program.”
Fortunately, Connolly said he expects the Senate will act responsibly and produce a short-term budget plan that reinstates the homeless veterans funding and other critical funding.

Photos From DC Rally Supporting Wisconsin Workers

As I mentioned earlier, there was a very good rally yesterday in downtown DC. Several hundred people gathered just blocks away from the US Capitol to show their support for workers in Wisconsin. I already posted a video of Donna Edwards speaking to the crowd, but I'll have more video of the crowd and some of the speeches later today.

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Video: Rep. Donna Edwards Tells Scott Walker He's Got to Go

Just blocks away from the US Capitol and in front of the building that Wisconsin's governor has an office in DC, several hundred people showed up to show their support for the workers in Wisconsin. I'll be posting photos, more video, and a in depth write up about today's event soon, but I wanted to share the video the speech Rep. Donna Edwards gave right away. She spoke extremely passionately about how we need to stand up for workers' rights and sent a message directly to Gov. Scott Walker --- it's time to go. She even lead the crowd in chant of "hey hey, ho ho, Scott Walker has got to go."

After her speech, I briefly spoke to Edwards and she pointed out that this isn't just about Wisconsin and it certainly isn't just about balancing the budget. Instead, she pointed out that we're seeing the right carryout "a sustained attack on workers all across the country." While Edwards is doing what she can to stand up for the working class, the struggle for workers rights isn't going to be ending anytime soon. I'm therefore very pleased to see so many people joining the fight for the working class.

Senior Obama Aide Says Social Security Isn't Part of Deficit Debate

As the discussion about our economy and Obama’s budget continues on the Hill, one of the big topics that progressives have been talking about is social security. Despite the GOP’s effort to claim social security is largely responsible for our economic woes, progressives like Rep. Xavier Becerra are standing up to say they’re wrong and argue that we need to “divorce this conversation about budget reduction from social security.” During a speech sponsored by NDN about the budget, one of Obama’s highest economic advisers added his voice to the conversation when he was asked about the debate.

The deputy director of Obama’s National Economic Council, Jason Furman, said that Social Security isn’t something "you care about" if "you are worried about our long-run fiscal future." Instead, he pointed out that “the reason you care about it is because you want to strengthen Social Security.” Just in case people needed a reminder of why it’s important to strengthen the program, he then added that “it is such a critical part of our social insurance, the bedrock of retirement security for senior citizens, one of the leading anti-poverty programs for children, [and provides] critical support for people with disabilities.”

While GOP says some of the benefits of Social Security highlighted by people like Becerra and Furman can be helpful, they claim they need to be cut because the program supposedly is causing a financial burden on our country. That claim is simply untrue because, as Rep. Becerra pointed out last week, Social Security doesn’t have anything to do with the deficit that we’re facing today. In fact, it’s actually been running a surplus. These claims shouldn’t be too surprising, however, when you consider that Republicans probably want to distract the American people from the fact that their budget proposal would have a devastating impact on the economy.

During his speech at NDN, Furman compared the impact of the GOP’s budget to the impact of Obama’s budget and the differences were extremely apparent. He highlighted how Obama’s budget would reduce the deficit by $1 trillion over the next 10 years while also providing some investment in key areas like education and infrastructure. When it came to the Republicans’ budget, on the other hand, Furman pointed out that all of the cuts would just go towards covering the cost of tax cuts to the extremely wealthy and repealing health care reform (which the CBO estimates would cost $230 billion).

This is important to note because it basically means the GOP wants to cut programs to those who desperately need them while give the extremely wealthy a break. Since that wouldn’t be a good message to campaign on, however, many Republicans are trying to spread falsehoods about Social Security to distract the public. And that is just part of the reason we have to listen to people like Becerra and Furman when they suggest the debate surrounding Social Security and the deficit we’re currently facing don’t belong in the same conversation.

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Video: Rep. Gordan Hintz Illustrates How Passionate People Are In Wisconsin

As the protests in Madison, Wisconsin have now been going on for over a week, there is a lot of talk about how Governor Walker is refusing to even consider a possible negotiation with the unions and the Democratic members of the state legislature. When you consider that the unions have already said they'll accept the pay cuts as long as collective bargaining isn't done away with, it becomes painfully obvious that this isn't like Governor Scott Walker keeps telling the press.

As Rep. Gordon Hintz pointed out during a speech on the floor of the state assembly, however, the GOP has been using extremely shady tactics throughout the debate. All of the tactics he points to suggest the GOP doesn't want much investigation into what the proposed legislation really entails. Fortunately, you have passionate people like Hintz and the thousands of people at the Capitol who are standing up for the working class and an open government.

The following video, which has been making its way around through email lists and twitter, really shows how passionate people have become about standing up for workers.

Monday, February 21, 2011

Illinois Governor Delays Visit To Wisconsin Due to Protests

When it comes to the playoffs in professional sports, we often see elected officials from the various cities represented to make light hearted bets between each other. That was the case when the Democratic governor from Illinois, Pat Quinn, made a bet with Wisconsin’s Governor Scott Walker. If the Green Bay Packers beat the Chicago Bears, then Governor Quinn would head to Wisconsin to volunteer at a food pantry wearing Green Bay’s colors. Since Green Bay not only beat the Bears but also went on to win the Super Bowl, Quinn was expected to make a trip today to volunteer at a food bank in Wisconsin.

Quinn won’t be traveling to Wisconsin today, however, because of the labor protests that are currently taking place in Madison. His spokeswoman, Annie Thompson, told the Chicago Sun-Times that they will be looking for another date for Quinn to do the volunteer work.
“In light of the very serious issues that the state of Wisconsin is trying to work through right now, the governor felt the timing was not necessarily ideal and that it would be more appropriate to find a better date.”
It’s worth noting that the bet around the football game also came at a time when the two governors were having a difference of opinion about how to solve the budget deficits in their respective states. In Illinois, Quinn suggested that they should have a temporary increase in income tax so the state could address the enormous deficit it was facing. Since Gov. Walker is trying claim it’s alright to take away the rights of workers and make major cuts to crucial programs, it’s safe to say he disagreed with Quinn’s decision. He even used the tax issue in attempts to get businesses to come to Wisconsin. As Gov. Quinn's spokeswoman told the Chicago paper, however, Walker’s lack of good governing recently has actually show why people from Wisconsin might want to move to Illinois.
“What we’re seeing in Wisconsin is not the way to do it,” she said. “When a state is experiencing such mass turmoil, businesses are not going to be attracted to it. The governor does welcome Democratic members of the Wisconsin Senate and really anybody from Wisconsin who wants to come to Illinois, where we’re up and running and doing our best to work together.”
With members of the Wisconsin state senate currently in Illinois to prevent the Republican majority from taking away the rights of workers, it will be interesting to see if the situation has any other impact on the relationship between the two states. Of course, a lot of the tension could be solved if Gov. Scott Walker simply was willing to come to the table and discuss potential compromises. The Democrats and union leaders have already said they’re willing to do so.

Rep. Tammy Baldwin Joins Workers At Protest in Madison

I first met Rep. Tammy Baldwin at a screening of the movie Milk back in 2008 and was immediately impressed. Our conversation that night, which was about a month after Obama's historic victory, was about how grassroots action can lead to some amazing victories. Baldwin's support of the grassroots has continued since then, which is why I wasn't surprised to see that she tweeted about being "back in the Capitol with thousands of dedicated Wisconsinites."

In a statement she put out through her Congressional office, Baldwin also pointed out how the proposals from Governor Walker are "reckless and dangerous" and that "state employees deserve a voice and a show of respect from our governor and our state legislature." This is noteworthy because it's not coming from some random Member of Congress. Baldwin was born and raised in Madison and was in the Wisconsin General Assembly before being elected to the House of Representatives.

With the House not in session this week, Rep. Baldwin is taking the time to "stand in solidarity with my fellow Wisconsinites." While there, she has also said she wanted "to echo the chants in the Capitol" by saying "THANK YOU for all you are doing." With Baldwin joining the crowds in Madison and the Wisconsin 14 (the Democrats in the state senate) standing up to Governor Walker, the Democrats in Wisconsin have definitely shown their desire to stand up for the working class.

UPDATE: It's also worth watching a quick video of Tammy speaking about her support of the workers while she was heading to the floor of the House of Representatives to cast votes last week.

Video: Tim Kaine's Speech at the Virginia JJ Dinner

In case you're like me and weren't able to make it to the JJ this weekend, the Richmonder has posted videos for some of the speeches (he's already posted video ofRep. Jim Moran and Chairman of the Virginia Democratic Party Brian Moran. JC had a good spot near the stage, so I highly recommend heading over to his blog to check out all of his coverage. For those of you who are interested, here's the video JC posted to youtube of Tim Kaine's speech.

Rep. Xavier Becerra: "Divorce this conversation about deficit reduction from Social Security"

As conversations about Obama’s budget are progressing and the so called “Group of 6” senators (including Mark Warner) are meeting about how to implement the debt commission’s recommendations, there has been a lot of talk about what should be done in regards to social security. At a panel discussion last week sponsored by the Center for American Progress and other organizations looking at possible solutions, it became clear that this discussion should be held separately from the debate surrounding the president’s budget.

Rep. Xavier Becerra (D-California), the ranking member of the Ways and Means Committee’s subcommittee on Social Security, joined in other speakers in suggesting that social security is one of the most important programs that we currently have in place. In fact, he began his speech by saying that “by far, without question, there’s no program in the public or private sector that has done more for more Americans than has social security.” That is part of the reason why he believes we must stand up for social security while it’s under attack from people who are willing to cut it to save a few bucks.

Although there are a lot of folks on the right who would like to blame social security for our deficits, Becerra was quick to point out how that argument is completely untrue. In fact, he even pointed out that without social security our deficits would be larger than they are currently.
Social Security had not one single thing to do with causing the deficit that we’re confronting today. Not one cent of the money that’s owed, whether to China, or the US Banks, or to anyone else in this country or throughout the world by this government was used or borrowed by social security and social security recipients. In fact, were it not for the fact that social security is around and continued to run a surplus, the actual size of the nation’s budget deficits would be far larger in their perception. Because so much of the money that social security brings in from those of you who are working, and gets contributed to the system is above and beyond what we need today to payout benefits. And as a result, of course, the money goes into the trust fund.
In addition to blaming social security for our country’s deficits, the GOP’s leadership frequently like to claim that we need to address our budget problems so that America’s youth aren’t straddled with enormous amounts of debt. What they fail to highlight, however, is that programs like social security are also one of the ways that America’s youth can be confident they have a solid future. That is why Becerra stressed the importance of making sure those of us under the age of 30 are actually paying attention to the conversation.
The reality is that it’s mostly for young Americans that social security is so important. By the time you reach retirement age, which we hope doesn’t go much beyond what it’s supposed to be at 66 or 67 years, you’re pretty set. You’ve paid in. But when you’re 22, or 25, or 27. When you’re just embarking on your career and you’re not really thinking about what you’re going to be doing in 50 years. That’s when we want you to know you’re going to have a secure opportunity come your golden years. And so the reality is the debate about social security shouldn’t be about seniors. The debate about social security should really be about our youth.
In other words, we really do need to see some changes in the conversation surrounding social security. No longer should it be viewed as a program that’s increasing our deficits while only looking out for the interests of the seniors currently receiving benefits. Instead, the conversation should focus on the reality that social security is a program that is crucial for our country’s younger population and has been running a surplus. When you no longer are buying into the myths that folks on the right are promoting about social security, then you can finally begin to talk about the reforms that might need to be implemented down the road.

Sunday, February 20, 2011

House Committee Passes Legislation Making It Harder to Join a Union

As we are seeing how thousands of people have rallied in Wisconsin to express their opposition to assault the tea party supported governor in Wisconsin is leading on the public workers unions in his state, another attack on unions from the GOP on the federal level went largely unnoticed. During an Aviation Subcommittee meeting of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee voted on Wednesday to make it harder for FAA employees to join a union.

Much like how Governor Scott Walker wanted to impose his policies without much discussion in Wisconsin, Rep. Jerry Costello (D-Illinois) said that this move was “added without our knowledge or any discussion.” Nonetheless, the subcommittee rejected Costello’s amendment which would remove the provision that makes it harder for people to join a union. This is important because it means that the GOP is trying to jam through legislation that would harm the working class. Since he described it well during his opening statement at the hearing, here’s how Costello said the new rules would impact workers:
The National Mediation Board has a rule that sets out union election procedures in the airline and rail industry to make those procedures fair and consistent with how democratic elections are held. Under this rule, the mediation board will certify a union as the representative of airline or railroad workers if a majority of ballots cast were in favor of the union. Simply put, the majority rules – the ballots are counted and whoever wins, wins.

This bill would change the procedure and would require that any eligible worker not voting in an election, for whatever reason, would be counted as a “no” vote. As an example, if there were 100 people eligible to vote for or against joining a union, and 10 or 15 of the 100 did not cast a vote because they were sick or in the hospital – or for any other reason – even though they did not cast a ballot, they would be counted as a “no” vote in the election. H.R. 658 would repeal the mediation board’s rule and impose this outrageous procedure that is intended to make it as difficult as possible for workers to join a union. Imagine if we had to count every registered voter who did not vote in the past election in our congressional districts as a “no” vote. How many questions of public policy on the election ballot would pass if every registered voter who did not vote in the election would be counted as a “no” vote on the referendum or a question of public policy.
According to Costello, he believes that this provision will have a difficult time making it through the Senate because the anti-union movement there isn’t as strong as it is in the GOP controlled House of Representatives. This means that there could lead to some delays in authorizing funding for the FAA. That’s why he added that “if we are serious about passing a long-term FAA bill, this provision must come out.”

What I think is extremely important to note here is that both in Wisconsin and in the debate at the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, people aren’t saying that cuts cannot be made. The pro-labor side is just pointing out that the working class deserves to have its rights protected and they shouldn’t be taken away just because some elected officials want to score political points with the tea party.

Saturday, February 19, 2011

Net Neutrality Suffers Defeat at Federal and State Levels

As it stands right now, the recent net neutrality rules passed by the FCC would only impact wired connections. This essentially means that corporations could still potentially block certain sites (or at least severely slow them down) on wireless devices. The logical conclusion is that people who don’t want large corporations being able to censure the internet would do what they can to make sure everyone has access to wired internet. As Ben Tribbett pointed out over at Not Larry Sabato, however, it appears as though Virginia’s General Assembly has passed legislation that would allow the net neutrality rules.
The bill the Virginia Senate voted on yesterday now eliminates the state requirement that every home has a wired connection- allowing Verizon and other providers to shift their customers to the unregulated internet where they can control which content you get. If you've ever worked in a place that blocks certain websites, it could work a lot like that except for your home service. Additionally they could choose to "slow down" certain services to make them less appealing to use.
As Ben highlights some of the work that corporations have been doing at the state level this week, we’ve also seen some developments regarding net neutrality at the federal level as well. Since Congress can rescind rules put forward by the FCC, Republicans have taken steps to rescind the rules regarding net neutrality. As part of these efforts to increase the power of corporations in the communications business, the GOP leadership decided to hold a hearing earlier this week on rescinding these rules in a subcommittee of the Energy and Commerce Committee.

In a clear sign of contempt for government regulation of large corporations, the subcommittee’s chairman, Rep. Greg Walden (R-Oregon), claimed that the FCC was acting on “barely more than a whim.” In case he hadn’t mocked the FCC enough for standing up to large corporations, he then suggested that “under the FCC’s rationale, its authority is bounded only by its imagination.” The other Republicans at the hearing joined in his cause by suggesting that this was simply a government power grab that would have consequences far beyond just net neutrality. In other words, it was a prime example of how Republicans will claim almost anything that goes against the interests of large corporations is absolutely evil.

Fortunately, there were Democrats on the subcommittee who set the record straight by pointing out that communications companies have a history of making moves that aren’t in the best interests of the American people. Rep. Edward Markey (D-Massachussets), for instance, pointed out that “there’s a long history here of AT&T and the Baby Bells engaging in anti-competitive, anti-consumer activity.” Fortunately, while the resolution is likely to pass in the House of Representatives, Democrats who have expressed similar views to Markey in control of both the Senate and the White House and its therefore unlikely to go any further than the House.

Despite the fact that the rules aren’t likely to be rescinded by Congressional action, however, net neutrality still does face some challenges on the federal level. Rep. Walden has continued his attacks on the FCC and net neutrality by introducing an amendment to the continuing resolution that just passed in the House of Representatives. The amendment, which would prevent the FCC from spending any money on the implementation of net neutrality, passed largely along party lines on Thursday evening. With the current atmosphere on the Hill, there’s a decent possibility that the measure could survive the Senate debate. When you combine this with the victory they had in Virginia’s General Assembly this week, it’s safe to say the lobbyists for large communications companies are quite pleased with themselves right now.

Friday, February 18, 2011

Despite Rapidly Approaching Deadline, GOP Leadership Schedules A Week Off

As we're rapidly approaching the March 4th deadline for passing the continuing resolution that would fund the federal government for the rest of the fiscal year, there are a lot of people who are worried we'll see a government shut down. Despite the fact that there's still a lot of work that needs to be done to reach a compromise, here's what the schedule for the House of Representatives looks like next week.

That's right, the House won't be in session. I've had several staffers on the Hill tell me that they've seen an increase in constituent emails and phone calls since debate on the budget began, so I surely thought this was just a glitch in the website. After all, the GOP had promised America during the 2010 campaign season that they would address spending and job related issues. When you combine the campaign promises with how the increased communication shows that people were passionate about the current debate, after all, you'd think House would be working hard on a topic that their constituents care about. I contacted senior staffers, however, and was told that "the word from the House GOP leadership" is that they still won't be in session.

Of course, the way things currently work, Members of Congress won't have their personal pocketbooks impacted by a government shutdown (though Rep. Jim Moran is working to correct that). When you combine that with how some Republicans appear to believe having the government shutdown is a good political strategy, I suppose we shouldn't be too surprised that the GOP wants to have a legislative break right before such a crucial deadline.

Rep. Giffords and the Armed Services Committee

Almost immediately after the tragic shootings in Tuscon, we began hearing about how much her colleagues have for Rep. Gabby Giffords. That has continued in the weeks since the shooting and that the respect for Giffords was especially evident during an Armed Services Committee hearing yesterday. During a hearing about the Air Force's proposed FY 2012 budget, the leaders of the Air Force recognized her work and Rep. Adam Smith made sure her office was able to have questions answered.

Secretary Michael Donley started his testimony by discussing how "the air force knows and respects Rep. Giffords for her strong our men and women in uniform." He then added that "we certainly wish her a speedy recovery and look forward to her return to this Committee." General Norton Schwartz expressed the same sentiments when he began his testimony.

For those of you who are wondering what's going on with her Congressional office while she's recovering, we saw the answer to that during the hearing. Her staffers are continuing to work with leadership to make sure that her constituents are represented in the House. When it came to his turn to question Donley and Schwartz, for example, the ranking Democrat on the committee (Rep. Adam Smith) had worked with Giffords staff to develop questions that she would have wanted asked. Those questions were on energy efficiency and Air Force bases like the one in her district.

Rep. Jim Moran: Congress Shouldn't Get Paid During Government Shutdown

Under the way the law currently works, Members of Congress and the President would still receive a paycheck during a government shutdown even though other federal employees wouldn't. This is because their salaries are paid through mandatory spending rather than through the appropriations process. Realizing that this is simply unfair, Rep. Jim Moran has introduced legislation in the House of Representatives that would prevent Members of Congress from receiving paychecks during a government shutdown.

“If we’re going to throw federal employees, including our staffs, out on the street, we should be right there with them,” said Moran. “In the event of a shutdown, Members should be eating peanut butter and jelly like everyone else.”

During the government shutdowns of 1995 and 1996 resulted in the furlough of about 800,000 federal workers and more than 20% of DC-area contractors. In other words, it had a large impact on the lives of people in our region. I'm therefore very glad to see that Moran is taking a step forward here to make sure Congress is held accountable for it's actions. If other federal employees won't be paid and the public won't be able to receive crucial services, then there is no way the people responsible for the shutdown should continue receiving a paycheck. It's not like Members of Congress are living paycheck to paycheck anyways because they make just under $175,000 a year.

Since a continuing resolution has to be passed before March 4 in order to prevent a government shutdown and the House has already been working into the wee hours of the morning trying to finish the debate, I highly doubt this bill would be passed in time to be put into effect during a shutdown if it does happen next month. Nonetheless, I'm very pleased to see Moran taking leadership on this issue.

Video: Scott Surrovell On Traffic Woes and Restoring Funding to Metro

As I mentioned a few days ago, the House Republicans have decided to cut $150 million in annual funding from Metro. This is a move that could have a devastating impact on Northern Virginia because so many people depend on the Metro to get to work. As Del. Scott Surrovell said during a speech on the floor of the House of Delegates, this isn't the only time the federal government hasn't properly funded projects that have an impact on NoVA's traffic. That's why Scott is joining Gerry Connolly in calling upon Governor McDonnell to use his connections with Republicans on the Hill to encourage the House of Representatives to restore funding to Metro.

We Can't Let Our Emotions Get the Better of Us In Senate Race

Although he won’t be announcing his candidacy at the JJ Dinner this weekend, it’s generally accepted that Tim Kaine will be running for the US Senate. Whether it’s been with Hill staffers, members of the DPVA state central, or with bloggers who have been actively encouraging Tom Perriello to run, almost everybody I’ve talked to about this race expects Kaine to announce fairly soon. As the anticipation for any of the rumored possible Democratic candidates to make a decision continues to increase, however, it appears as though some folks are trying to make relatively small exchanges into something bigger than they really are.

As I’ve talked with people about this race, it appears as though there are some who don’t like the passion that supporters of various candidates display. In a facebook exchange that was forwarded to me earlier in the week, for instance, one long-time Virginia Democratic activist demanded that anyone who supported a candidate other than the one he liked should de-friend him. I was rather disappointed when I saw this because it was between two folks who have given a lot of their time and energy to electing good candidates and accomplished nothing but unnecessary friction. If an argument for toning down the rhetoric between parties is that we can disagree without being disagreeable, why can’t we do that in debates amongst ourselves as well?

Another example of people causing a rift where one really shouldn’t exist comes in the form of a post over at the Richmonder. JC usually has some great writing and has been a dedicated volunteer over the years, but simply got it wrong yesterday. His post highlighted how there were some facebook postings going around about how people should “bring vuvuzelas for Timmy’s speech” and “spread the gospel of Perriello for Senate.” Anyone who has worked in politics for awhile knows that sometimes people joke around with friends about goofy ways you could distract your opponent. These discussions rarely actually end up with the plans being implemented and are often forgotten moments later.

With that being said, I do agree with the JC when he said that it’s probably not really fair to Perriello to have other people drag his name into it. On top of that, while those conversations can be a witty escape from the heat of a campaign, they probably shouldn’t be held in a public forum where the whole world can see the interaction and misconstrue what’s being said. It probably would have been a better idea, however, to point that out in a comment on the facebook posting so the situation didn’t escalate.

I bring these interactions up because they are prime examples of the behavior that we want to avoid. The ideas currently being promoted by the Republicans in Congress make it extremely important for Democrats to remain united and make sure Virginia doesn’t send George Allen back to the US Senate. Fortunately, we have multiple candidates considering a bid that could win this race.

Both the polling I’ve seen and conversations I’ve had with other people heavily involved in Virginia politics suggest that Tim Kaine could win statewide. To back this argument up, people point to how he’s proven that he’s able to win statewide before, he remains popular in Virginia, and his national profile would allow him to raise the large amount of money necessary to run a successful campaign. And of course the grassroots have already shown over the last week or so that they’re willing to rally behind Tom Perriello because he’s the more progressive candidate. Plus, like with the numbers that show Kaine could win, there’s also polling that also shows Perriello could beat Allen.

What this all means is that we can keep this seat in Democratic hands, we just must keep focused on the campaign at hand and cannot let our emotions get the better of us.

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Gerry Connolly Fights For Job Saving Funding in Public Television and the Arts

As I pointed out yesterday, the Republicans have been focusing their attention on saving tax cuts at the same time they've proposed cutting away programs that provide valuable resources to the general public and create jobs. As part of those efforts, they've gone after funding for public television and the arts, which would cost almost 30,000 jobs in Northern Virginia alone. Thankfully, whether it's through his efforts to save Metro funding or his efforts now on the cuts to public television, Rep. Gerry Connolly has been standing up for the working class.

The following is a statement released by Gerry's office about why he strongly opposes these cuts.

Efforts by Republicans in the U.S. House of Representatives to eliminate or cut funding for public television and radio and the arts in the continuing resolution could impact 5,836 businesses and jeopardize more than 28,000 jobs in Northern Virginia, Congressman Gerry Connolly said today.

The House Republican majority has targeted the Corporation for Public Broadcasting (CPB), the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA), and related arts programs for extinction as the House continues to work on the majority’s spending bill to fund the federal government for the next seven months. (H.R. 1, the Continuing Resolution for Fiscal Year 2011)

“Unfortunately, too many members of the majority party want to engage in culture wars on the House floor rather than focus on the worthwhile benefits to current and future generations derived from the arts and public television and radio,” said Connolly, who is a member of the Congressional Arts Caucus. “These short-sighted cuts ignore the 3 million Americans, including more than 68,000 Virginians, currently employed in creative industries. These senseless and draconian cuts have the potential to deny access to museums, symphonies, and other arts activities for all but the most wealthy among us.”

The Virginia Congressman said that the arts also provide many children with the foundation to begin creative careers. “Are we going to deny opportunities to the next generation of great artists, musicians, and thespians?” he asked.

Criticizing the GOP legislation to eliminate the CPB, Connolly pointed out that more than 170 million Americans are regular viewers and listeners of public television and radio stations across the United States. “Public broadcasting provides some of the highest quality of radio and television programming. CPB could just as well be an acronym for Children and Parents Benefit because the programming available to all ages, from pre-schoolers to adults, is enlightening, educational, and unbiased,” Connolly said.

“Whose children have not grown up learning their ABCs from Sesame Street? Who has not enjoyed one of the many rich musical performances or riveting documentaries, including Ken Burns’ historic 1990 series on the American Civil War, and a recent series on America’s national parks, shown exclusively on PBS?” Connolly asked in a House floor statement during debate on the bill.

“In America, unlike many countries around the world, the media industry always has been a completely commercial enterprise. Public broadcasting was not designed to supplant private media - and given the explosion of private television channels it clearly has not. Instead it merely provides viewers with a broad selection of educational and cultural programs that are available for free in every household in every community,” he said.

“Public broadcasting is an extraordinarily cost-effective investment in America’s cultural and educational advancement,” Connolly said. “For more than 40 years, PBS and NPR have brought the world to our homes, regardless of our financial means or where we lived. PBS, NPR, and its local stations are to broadcasting what the Internet is to the digital revolution, and like the internet, it democratizes and provides universal access to information,” Connolly said.

“We must not sever access to such a unifying public resource at the short-sighted altar of fiscal dogma.”

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Just Some of the Negative Impacts of the GOP Budget

As I mentioned in my write up of yesterday's Ways and Means Committee hearing, there are many Republican House members who appear to be more concerned about tax cuts for the extremely wealthy than measures that would truly help working class Americans. If you needed some more evidence of how the Republican continuing resolution represents those values, here are just a few. The following numbers were some of the negative impacts in the GOP's proposal that were highlighted in an email from Nancy Pelosi's office. Of course, folks in the DC area should also be concerned about how the Republicans want to cut funding to Metro. That would compromise WMATA's ability to bring the system up to safety standards and harm the region's hard working families that depend on the Metro to get to work.

American Jobs
800,000: Private and public-sector jobs destroyed by domestic spending cuts

Jobs Rebuilding America
284,000: Private-sector transportation and infrastructure jobs lost

Educating America
218,000: Children kicked out of Head Start
55,000: Early Learning teachers, teacher assistants and related staff who will lose their jobs
7,000: Special education teachers and staff who will lose their jobs because of IDEA funding cuts
$845: Amount by which the maximum Pell Grant is cut

American Innovation
• $1.6 billion: Cut to National Institute of Health – representing a significant setback in cancer and other disease research
• 20,000: Fewer researchers supported at the National Science Foundation

ELIMINATED: Helping Veterans & Women’s Health
• ELIMINATED: $75 Million program that provides assistance to Homeless Veterans
• ELIMINATED: Title X funding for women’s health services

GOP Values Become Evident While Questioning Sec. Tim Geithner

Secretary Tim Geithner testified before the House Ways and Means Committee yesterday and I was there to cover the hearing. While his prepared statement didn’t really bring anything to the table that hasn’t already been said by Obama or other administration officials, I did want to highlight some of what happen at the committee hearing because it highlights how the Republicans are approaching our current economic situation.

As the hearing opened, Chairman Dave Camp (R-MI) was very quick to focus in on taxes. The very first thing he said after thanking Geithner for coming to the hearing, in fact, was “it has been said that the power to tax is the power to destroy.” He later added, “let me be clear Mr. Secretary, Americans are not taxed to little. What America has had under this Administration is too little job creation.”

While he did mention that there are millions of Americans who are out of work and “the average duration of unemployment is a record 37 weeks,” he didn’t bother to really discuss how we should be funding programs that can put these families to work. This is a shame because what we really need now is investment in job creating projects like building infrastructure and providing educational opportunities that will give people the skills necessary in the 21st Century job market. Instead of leading that type of discussion, however, Rep. Camp focused on supporting tax breaks for the extremely wealthy.

During his time to ask Secretary Geithner questions about the budget, for instance, Camp decided to press him on the Obama Administration’s desire to let the Bush tax cuts to those making over $250,000 a year expire. Camp falsely claimed that this wouldn’t be taxing the rich, but would actually harm small businesses that create jobs. Since we’ve been hearing this blatant attempt to bend the facts in order to protect the GOP’s wealthy donors for some time now, Geithner was probably expecting this line of questioning. He was therefore able to quickly point out that the businesses that would fall into this category are actually law and investment firms that bring in millions of dollars a year. In other words, they’re not the mom and pop stores or other local businesses that people traditionally think of when they hear someone refer to “small businesses.”

Now, as Rep. Sander Levin (D-MI) pointed out, the Democratic approach to the budget “is in sharp contrast to the House Republicans’ continuing resolution.” He continued by mentioning how we need to have “a necessary combination of investing in economic growth and reducing our deficit.” Although I was told by some senior aides that what comes out of the House of Representatives will likely be drastically different from what President Obama proposed, Levin highlighted how Obama’s budget did bring us towards the goal of accomplishing both economic growth and deficit reduction.

In case people couldn’t tell by Rep. Camp’s opening statement and the Republican line of questioning, Levin highlighted how “the House Republican plan disinvests in jobs, in growth and in our communities.” While this certainly doesn’t cover all of the job killing proposals that the Republicans have put forward, Rep. Levin highlighted how the Republican plan eliminates or drastically cuts programs that would keep police officers employed, invest in job creating water infrastructure projects, and community development block grants that help to improve local economies throughout the country. He also highlighted how those tax cuts that Camp so fiercely advocated for “would increase the deficit by nearly $1 trillion over ten years.”

As the budget will be the hot topic of conversation and legislative action on the Hill for at least the next couple of weeks, members of Congress and their staff are preparing for what some have predicted will the toughest budget fight in long time. Based upon what I heard in the hearings and conversations with staffers yesterday, this is a time when we could truly see what our leaders value.

GOP Kills Connolly Amendment That Would Restore Metro Funding

The House Republicans killed an amendment last night by Rep. Gerry Connolly that would restore $150 million in federal funding for Metro. Since the GOP opposed providing this funding, that is supposed to be used to make sure Metro is safe, they ended up ruling the amendment out of order just before 10pm last night. When you consider that this comes just one year into a 10 year agreement that was made to improve Metro safety and Connolly’s amendment would have offset the cost by reducing federal farm subsidies to large agribusinesses, this move is yet another prime example of how the House Republicans are willing to do harm to the general public just to satisfy the Tea Party element of their party.

What’s also very interesting is that so many of the right wing likes to argue that they stand up for state rights, but the decision to kill the federal funding of Metro is actually one that can harm to the states. This is because it was just in the last Congress that legislation passed authorizing the $150 million annual federal payment to Metro. The money was going to be matched by Virginia, Maryland, and DC so that there could be safety and infrastructure improvements to the Metro system. In what Connolly said is an “egregious abrogation of the contract Congress made with the states and DC,” the states might be left to come up with the rest of the money for these necessary safety improvements. With the states having to make major cuts to their own budgets, it’s likely the states won’t increase their payments which means many of the so more than $1 billion in needed Metro safety improvements identified by the National Transportation Safety Board won’t be made.

Now in addition to making a heavily used public transit system safer, there are some obvious benefits to the federal government in making sure that Metro is running safely and efficiently. As Gerry Connolly points out, for instance, a large portion of Metro’s riders are federal employees. “There is no bigger beneficiary of the Metro system than the federal government,” Connolly said. “More than 40 percent of federal employees commute on Metro every day and the federal government provides no subsidy to Metro other than this $150 million annual payment.”

Connolly then went on to say that “this legislation jeopardizes everything we’ve tried to do, in a bipartisan manner, to improve Metro safety.” He also suggested that a failure to keep Metro running safely could potentially lead to a government shut down since so many federal employees get to work on the Metro.

“There is talk that a failure by the Congress to pass the continuing appropriations resolution could force the government to shut down on March 4,” Connolly said. “I suggest that failure to amend the bill to retain the federal funding of Metro could have a similar effect if the money isn’t available to keep Metro safe and functioning efficiently.”

This is important to note because it’s not like the tea party driven House Republicans are just trying to kill a pet project of the left. The funding that was killed truly is something that will help federal workers get to their job and keep people safe. When you also consider that Metro is how people get to private sector jobs all across the area and get places where they spend money, making sure Metro is running smoothly is something that can help the region’s economy. But as we’ve seen time and time again, the GOP’s leadership has been more interested in discussing abortion and other social issues during this Congress instead of focusing on the economy.

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Brian Moran Discusses Senate Race and More on Inside Scoop

The chairman of the Democratic Party of Virginia, Brian Moran, was the guest on last night's episode of the Inside Scoop. Considering the developments in Virginia politics over the last week and the JJ Dinner coming up this weekend, Brian's appearance was extremely timely. During the hour long program, Brian and host Catherine Read discussed a variety of topics including the race to replace Jim Webb and the recruitment of candidates to run for the General Assembly.

The most newsworthy portion of the show came during the discussion about Jim Webb's retirement. As can be expected since he's the DPVA Chair, Brian made it clear that he would support whoever becomes the Democratic nominee. He then went on to point out that Virginia definitely some well qualified candidates and said that, among the names that had been mentioned, he “can make a case for anyone.” He also stressed that while there are people expressing support for various candidates, “we all agree that we want a Democrat in the Senate.” He also highlighted how we were in a very similar position at this point in 2005, which was the year before Webb was elected. When you combine that with the fact that we have various people who have demonstrated an ability to win elections who might run for Senate, Brian argued that it would be wrong for the Republicans to think they had an easy road to winning the seat back.

While he praised all of the people being considered for Senate, it became clear as the campaign progressed that Brian thought Tim Kaine would likely be the strongest candidate. An example of this belief came when he suggested Kaine had a leg up on everyone else being considered because he’s won statewide. At the same time, he argued that the online activism taking place right now was good for the Party when I called in to ask him what he thought about the various online “Draft [insert candidate] for Senate” groups that had been starting (at the 30 minute mark). He pointed to the events in Egypt as a prime example of how social media can lead to real change. What he did stress, however, was that he believes it's extremely important that we all come together to support the eventual nominee.

For those who want to get a glimpse of the entire interview, I posed video of the entire show below. Brian's appearance begins at the 15 minute mark.

Monday, February 14, 2011

Rumors Circulate About Who'd Replace Kaine As DNC Chair

With all the discussion about who the Democrats will pick to run for Jim Webb's seat in 2012, any bit of information about some of the leading contenders is heavily sought after. One clue about the fate of Tim Kaine is that there's beginning to be a lot of discussion about who would replace him as DNC Chair. Reid Wilson, for instance, mentioned that Massachusetts Governor Deval Patrick has been meeting with key figures in the Democratic Party recently.
The Bay State governor, re-elected to a second term in November, has said he wants to brag about Massachusetts. Recently, he's taken that braggadocio to some strange places, sitting down with DNC chairman Tim Kaine and David Axelrod, Patrick's one-time chief strategist.

Patrick is close with Pres. Obama, and he's certainly a short-lister if and when certain Cabinet positions open up (He's been mentioned for Attorney General). But maybe there's a more immediate position coming open in which Patrick might be interested: Chairman of the Democratic National Committee.
The increased discussion about his replacement come at a time when the rumors are that Kaine's announcement will take place sometime around the JJ Dinner, which is taking place in Richmond this weekend. When you combine the news of people seeking his seat as DNC Chair with the fact that people close to Kaine have been making calls about his potential candidacy, Sen. Warner announced that he wants Kaine to run and expects he'll make a decision in "the next few days," and a lot of the party leadership appears to be lining up behind his candidacy, it's likely that Kaine will announce his candidacy very soon.

Video: Republican Advice to Republicans: Focus on Jobs

Since the Republicans have taken control of the House of Representatives, they seem to have found time to hold hearings on social issues like abortion but can't seem to get around to anything that will help create jobs. This is despite the fact that they the two years leading up to the 2010 elections promising the American people that they would focus on the economy. Since the Republicans can't seem to remember their promises, Rep. Pete Stark's office put together a little video reminder of their speeches on the House floor.

Boucher's Loyal Base Makes Him A Potential Senate Candidate

With Jim Webb announcing that he won’t be running for reelection, there has been a lot of discussion about the potential Democratic candidates. One of the names that keeps coming up is former Rep. Rick Boucher. Before losing his seat in 2010, Boucher represented the 9th Congressional District for 28 years and had an extremely loyal base in Southwest Virginia. While he might not have been a favorite speaker at large political gatherings or a frequent guest on the Sunday morning talk shows, Boucher was an extremely efficient member of the House of Representatives and developed a very strong base of supporters during his career. I therefore wanted to take some time to share some of my thoughts about him and the possibility of a Boucher for Senate campaign.

As some of you may remember, I worked for a statewide candidate in 2009 who was based in Southwest Virginia. As I traveled throughout that region, I frequently heard praise about the work that Boucher had done for the area. The praise didn’t only come from Democratic activists, but it also came from school teachers and small business owners who spoke about how many jobs Boucher brought to Southwest Virginia and made sure that the area had access to 21st Century technology. I particularly remember one trip to the far Southwest corner of Virginia I made with another staffer from Northern Virginia. As we were driving down, the other staffer brought up just how amazed he was that the little town we were traveling to in the middle of nowhere actually had high speed internet that frequently was faster than what you could find in modest size cities. Situations like that are largely as a result of the work that Boucher did while in Congress.

I’m certainly not the only one who has noticed the popularity that Boucher has in Southwest Virginia. Debra McCown has written an article that highlights how the former congressman was able to consistently receive 60 to 70 percent of the vote during his almost three decades in the House. One of the key aspects of Boucher’s work McCown highlighted was the funding he procured to extend water lines into the rural counties of the region.
“Every time we have water projects or wastewater plans or things like that, the congressman has always brought money to complete those projects,” Puckett said. “Most of those projects had state money and local money in it, and the congressman always finished the deal.”

He said that infrastructure has been important not only for quality of life, but for helping breed regional cooperation that’s become helpful in other endeavors since.

“Infrastructure’s one of the first things that allows you to have growth,” Puckett said. “He brought people together to start with to give them sort of a vision on what he thought might be there, but he also brought money.”
Despite the loyal base that supported Boucher as a result of his efforts to build Southwest Virginia’s infrastructure, Boucher did end up losing his seat during the Republican swarm of 2010. Outside of the fighting 9th, however, most of the Democratic activists and mainstream media were left discussing how Glenn Nye and Tom Perriello lost their seats. Much of this is a result of the fact that Nye and Perriello also had close races in 2008 and also received a lot of attention during the debate surrounding healthcare reform. I bring this up merely to highlight how Boucher would have to greatly increase his name recognition and popularity outside of his district if he were to run for the Senate.

Another concern that a lot of activists have about Boucher is that he represented a rural district. While people who have met him agree that he would make a good senator, there is a lot of concern about running a relatively unknown candidate who isn’t from one of the traditionally strong Democratic voting blocks. In conversations I’ve had with folks about his chances, I’ve had several people compare him to Creigh Deeds while highlighting how a lot of voters in NoVA simply won’t trust a rural politician no matter how qualified he or she is. However unjust or untrue that might be, it is a perception that’s out there and could prevent some leaders and activists from rallying behind a Boucher candidacy early on.

As the discussion continues surrounding which Democrats could potentially run for Webb’s seat, I wouldn’t be surprised if Boucher’s name continues to be mentioned. He definitely does have a loyal base that will keep his name out there and a record that proves he could be a very productive member of the US Senate. With people like Tom Perriello, Gerry Connolly, and Tim Kaine all “not ruling out” a potential Senate bid, however, I highly doubt that we’ll actually see his name gain a whole lot of traction.

Rally Outside Egyptian Embassy Had A Festive Atmosphere

I joined about 300 other people on Saturday afternoon outside the Egyptian Embassy in DC to celebrate Mubarak’s resignation. With music blasting over loud speakers and people literally dancing in the streets, the crowd brought a wide variety of people ranging from families with young children to people who appeared to be in their 70’s and 80’s. Tears of joy were being shed by protesters in traditional Egyptian clothes as well as those sporting the latest American fashions. No matter who you talked to in the crowd, however, it was clear that they were proud of the Egyptian people and wanted to ensure that the democracy the protesters worked for is actually put in place.

Beyond the obvious celebratory atmosphere at the rally, there was also the realization that there is some uncertainty of what exactly is going to happen over the next few months. While the military has taken over the government, for instance, several people that I spoke to at the rally were a little unclear about who was actually in charge at the moment. Was it Vice-President Omar Suleiman, a high ranking member of parliament, or someone in the military? While yesterday’s announcement that the military council had suspended parliament and would be leading the country for 6 months or until an election can be held brings some clarity to the confusion, the uncertainty at the rally goes to show just how new and unclear some of these issues are for the Egyptian people at the moment.

What was clear at the rally is that Egyptians are prepared to hold the military accountable if it doesn’t keep its promise to oversee a peaceful transition. When I asked what he thought would happen if the transition just resulted in a new authoritarian regime taking power, one man in his thirties told me that “the revolution showed that Egyptians refuse to live under a dictator. We overthrew one regime and we can overthrow another.” That sentiment appeared to be shared by the majority of the people in attendance at the rally. A number of people even highlighted how the protesters in Egypt are already trying to show that they’re able to govern themselves by taking the initiative to clean up Tahir Square.

While most of the people there were extremely optimistic about Egypt’s future, there were some people who were cautious of the fact that there still is some work to be done to ensure that a democracy that truly listens to the voice of the people is actually put in place. For example, I had a few people point out to me that Mubarak actually came from the military. The fact that he ended up handing power over to the military therefore gave them some concern because they weren’t sure if the military would want to give up power. There was discussion of someone like Mohammed Hussein Tantawi (the head of the military council) or Sami Fnan (Chief of Staff of the military) potentially resigning from the military to run for president. That move could mean that while the military wouldn’t technically be in charge, it could be overrepresented in the behind the scenes governing.

The celebration of Mubarak’s resignation and the conversations about the transition process in Egypt were obviously the main focus of people at the rally. With that being said, folks simply couldn’t help but talk about the international events that related to the revolution. As people were checking blackberries and getting text messages from friends, for instance, there began to be a lot of talk about the events unfolding in Algeria. Fresh off of overthrowing a dictator in Egypt, the folks at the rally were outraged to hear the news that the Algerian government was cracking down on protesters. There was even more frustration with the news that the Iranian government was making it illegal for people to publicly demonstrate against the government. Right in the middle of the celebration, I saw many people reminding their friends to join online groups supporting the protesters in both countries.

As I left the rally, I walked away knowing that there was an immense amount of pride for the people of Egypt. Many of the people who had gathered outside the Egyptian Embassy had never known an Egypt without Mubarak as president and thrilled at the direction the country was moving. At the same time, they knew the transition process isn’t over yet and there is still work that needs to be done if democracy is going to prevail in their homeland.

Sunday, February 13, 2011

Video: Crowd Singing Egyptian National Anthem in Downtown DC

There was a gathering yesterday outside the Egyptian Embassy in downtown DC celebrating Mubarak's resignation. I'll be posting more of my reaction later, but I did want to post this video I took of the crowd singing the Egyptian National Anthem.

Some of My Quick Reactions to CPAC 2011

I spent several hours yesterday afternoon outside the Egyptian Embassy as people were celebrating Mubarak's resignation and showing their support for the Egyptian people. Since the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) was being held not to far away, I encountered a lot of CPAC attendees while on the Metro traveling in both directions. Although my observations of people on the Metro were clearly just a snapshot of what was happening at the event, I wanted to give my quick reaction to what I saw.

The biggest thing that I noticed was that the vast majority of people I saw wearing CPAC or GOP buttons were young people. On top of that, of the people wearing buttons supporting a particular candidate, the vast majority were Ron Paul supporters. I briefly spoke with one of the people wearing a Ron Paul button and he told me that the only way Rep. Paul wouldn't win the straw poll is if "Mitt Romney rigged it." Like last year, Paul did end up winning with 30% and Mitt Romney came in second with 23%.

I mention these observations together because there are a lot of Republican activists who have taken to twitter and the blogs to complain about how Ron Paul apparently paid for a lot of college students to attend the event. While it would arguably be a better judge of grassroots activity if all of the supporters were organized from the ground up and didn't receive anything from the campaigns, the plain and simple fact is that campaigns all levels frequently pay for their supporters to attend big events that have straw polls. Virginians might remember, for instance, that there were some complaints of certain gubernatorial candidates in 2009 doing this at a St. Patrick Day straw poll in Fairfax. In other words, campaigns know this common practice and shouldn't really complain about it. Furthermore, even if you are paying for people to show up at the event, you still have to get the people who are willing to give up their time to go to the event. Anyone who has done organizing knows that isn't necessarily an easy thing to do.

Another interesting aspect of the CPAC attendees on the Metro was the conversations that they were having. While they were all dressed up in nice suits or sweater vests, they definitely had some nasty things to say about Democrats. Several times I heard groups talking about how Obama and the Democrats were supposedly out to destroy the country because of his policies. And yes, I heard at least one person claim he was a Muslim and several people claim he was a socialist. I bring this up because it's a shame that people are actively promoting this type of thinking. It's one thing to disagree on the issues, but we can disagree without being disagreeable. The type of rhetoric used by these activists and members of the Republican leadership do nothing but spur the partisan divide in our country.

Finally, I was traveling into DC around noon and was coming back into Virginia around 5pm. During those times, I didn't hear any talk of Rep. Allen West (R-FL) or see anyone sporting Allen West swag. Nonetheless, he has definitely become the talk of online activists who were at the event. Part of that attention is very likely coming from the fact that he was the final keynote speaker of the conference and made a visit to the blogger room before his speech, it's very interesting to note that he received what's called "a rousing ovation" and is being described as one that's a lot better than what would have been given by the straw poll winner. There is some online chatter about an Allen West for President campaign down the road, but it'll be interesting to see if his reception at CPAC and an open field on the GOP side could potentially lead to him entering the race for the 2012 Republican nomination.

Saturday, February 12, 2011

Video: Panel Discussion With Four Former White House Press Secretaries

I spent a large chunk of today in downtown DC at the Egyptian Embassy today at a rally that was celebrating the recent developments in Egypt, which is why I didn't post anything earlier in the day. I will be posting about the event later, but I did want to draw attention to an event that I watched on C-SPAN tonight. It was a panel discussion that took place at George Washington University featuring four former press secretaries (Michael McCurry and Dee Dee Myers from the Clinton Administration and Ari Fleischer and Dana Perino from the Bush Administration). Since a lot of people reading political blogs are interested in a little inside info on how the news process influences the White House, I figured I'd post the video below.